One of my silly frustrations as a mother is the fact that my family cannot own a functioning pencil sharpener. We have, within recent memory, brought about the demise of at least a half a dozen pencil sharpeners. Cause of death varies from sharpening metal shish kabob sticks or pens – to motor burnout from constant sharpening of already sharp pencils – to being dropped on the kitchen floor or down the stairs. This may sound silly, but I am deeply bothered that I have not effectively taught my children to take care of things. And this botheration is reiterated daily when my children are looking for a sharp pencil with which to do homework.
The pencil sharpener affliction illuminates a failure in my home. And if I focus on this failure, it is hard for me to recognize daily successes. I begin to point fingers and become angry at the very people God has given me to love. This is one of the great problems in our world today, not necessarily the broken things that surround us, but the intense and unrelenting focus on those broken things.
Just a few weeks ago I had a conversation with an older woman who isn’t able to leave her apartment. Her television keeps her company and is on nearly all day long. This woman is world-weary. Everything we talked about ended in the conclusion that the world is just falling apart. She seems unable to see the good.
I thought about this dear woman for several days and pondered why she saw things the way she did. I considered that being homebound with failing health would cause depression. And then I began to think about the environment of her life … her small apartment, her television always on. I thought about the repercussions of life with too much news input.
The news tends to have an overwhelming focus on the broken things of the world. This negativity is enough to make anyone world-weary. And while there is much that is broken around us, there is even more that is good. There is so much service taking place, so many people giving of themselves, so many husbands and wives that love each other, so many parents that love their children, so many technological advances, so much of comfort and convenience, and so many people who are sincerely trying to make a difference.
It may take more effort to see the good, but there is good all around us to be sure. There is even good in the difficult and bad things we experience. We must cultivate and harvest the good rather than leave it alone. We must search out the good, recognize it, celebrate it, show gratitude for it, share it and make it the focus of our lives.
As we focus our lives on all that is good, we become instruments for good in the world. Indeed we cannot truly follow Christ unless we tune our hearts and our minds in to lay hold of every good thing. The Apostle Paul admonished us to seek out the virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy and to “think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Gordon B. Hinckley said:
I come this morning with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort…
What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears.
This is not to say that we never watch the news or try to make broken things better. Rather it is a plea that we focus on good things and put negative things into the perspective of our eternal hope.
Just this week I had another conversation. This time it was with a seventy-seven year old man whom I had never met. He told me how he had long since lost faith in society. He then told me of a single event that had changed his outlook. The recent snowfall compromised the integrity of his roof. His health was not such that he could climb up and shovel it clear. But two young strangers offered assistance, spending several hours to help him. His closing statement was that this act had restored his faith in humanity. Many years of negative input were undone by a single act of service.
Perhaps the best way we can cultivate the good in the world is by turning away from the negative and becoming the good we hope to find. God has given each of us a special gift, an authentic light, for the purpose of adding value to the the world. As we let our authentic light shine, we serve those around us in a way that ignites a fire of optimism in the human spirit.
Some things around us may persist in being broken. But good prevails every time we shift our focus from the broken pencil sharpeners of the world and choose instead to love those whom God has given us to love.